What's there to hate about Windows Server 2008?

While there is a lot to like about Windows Server 2008, it's not without a few quirks. Learn about some of the major and minor issues that admins might run into with the new OS and how to fix them.

While I've authored several articles extolling the virtues of Windows Server 2008, I feel obligated to give the

other side equal time, too. While this article is not intended to convince you to avoid a Windows Server 2008 migration, there are still a number of very annoying things included with the OS that you should be aware of (as well as some major items that have me worried). You could have your own list or may even disagree, but here is what I've found so far.

Lets start with the picky things first and work our way up to the big ones.

The new user interface

At the top of the "picky" complaint list is the Vista-like user interface. For some reason, Microsoft has determined that in order to sell new versions of its operating systems, they always need to have a new look and feel. As a result, the people at Microsoft work very hard at creating new icons, which are now so morphed you can't tell one from another.

The company has also moved some things around. You see, Microsoft has done a lot of research to determine the best way to organize items in the shell so they are easy to find. What it fails to realize, though, is that 99.9% of users are accustomed to the old ways and locations and now have to be retrained. I wonder what the cost is in terms of time for all users to learn the new UI, and if Microsoft has ever considered that.

Are these new features really worth the trouble? The Windows Server 2008 user interface is so dramatically different from Windows 2000 and 2003 that users might need a cross-reference guide just to work it all out. Here are some specific points:

  1. Looking for the desktop at logon -- All I want is the desktop, but Microsoft has decided that I should see the Initial Configuration screen (Figure 1) in Full Screen mode, covering my desktop. The fix for this is at the bottom of the screen. Check the box for "Do not show this window at logon." This screen is an absolute waste of time and effort. You can adopt the classic start menu (standard procedure for Windows XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003 and 2008 -- for me anyway) and move on to system and network properties for all the other options. Adding roles and features is taken care of through System Manager.

    Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

  2. Still looking for the desktop after logon -- After becoming annoyed with the Initial Configuration task screen, I close it out. A few seconds later, I discover that the OS doesn't give up that easy, as the Server Manager screen opens in -- you guessed it -- Full Screen mode. Hidden at the bottom of the Computer Configuration section is the "Do not show me this console at logon" option. While I'm a big fan of Server Manager, I detest this behavior. While it's probably not a big deal for those of you who don't often install the OS, it is very annoying when creating virtual machines.

  3. Using Internet Explorer to go to a Web page -- With Windows Server 2008, Internet Explorer 7 has been imposed on you, meaning that if you avoided the updates with Windows Server 2003, you now have to learn a whole new UI. On top of that, Microsoft apparently still thinks the Internet Explorer Enhanced Security Configuration (IEESC) feature is a good idea. Personally, I find this to be just another annoyance. For those of you who actually use this feature, I'd like to hear your thoughts. With the disappearance of Control Panel's Add/Remove programs, in order to disable IEESC, you must go to Server Manager → Server Summary → Security Information and find the "Configure IE ESC" link on the right.

  4. Windows Activation -- Once again, this problem applies more to virtual environments. For example, I frequently build virtual machines and forget to activate them. Then one day I will log in and receive a notice to activate -- and won't be able to log in until I do. Well, what if I like VMware Workstation's "host only" network, so it never sees the outside world? With this activation notice, I will never be able to connect to the Internet because the only option I have is to set up an Internet account with an Internet Service Provider or set up my modem connection. Are you serious? A modem connection? Can you even buy modems any more? I just want the ability to change to DHCP and get a public IP address, then set the Internet Explorer proxy to get to the Internet. Unfortunately, you can't do this with the available options on the activation screen. I wonder if there is a virtual modem I could connect to? Solution: Reinstall Windows.

While those problems are certainly annoying, they are relatively minor. Now let's move on to some more significant issues.

Fine-grained password policies

I don't actually hate fine-grained password policies; but I do fear them. Microsoft probably developed them because with Windows Server 2003, you were limited to one password policy per domain, and I'm sure there were complaints. Fine-grained password policies allow you to create password policies at the OU level, and they can apply to users or groups. It is very complex but, basically, you are allowed to assign a priority order in the case of multiple policies. Since only one policy can apply, the one with the highest priority will apply and the fine-grained password policies will trump the domain password policy in Group Policy.

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The issue here is that this is not implemented through Group Policy, but rather by modifying an attribute via the ADSIEdit support tool. Thus, management of fine-grained password policies is difficult (although Joe Richards has developed a tool that helps, and I'm sure there will be others). Since my job is to troubleshoot problems, I fear the day customers start implementing fine-grained password policies after the person who first did it has left the company, and we spend days trying to figure out why the password policy in Group Policy doesn't work in some instances.

Server Core

My feelings toward Server Core are similar to those of fine-grained password policies. It's not that I dislike it -- I'm just annoyed by it. While Server Core certainly has its place in certain environments, it forces Windows administrators to figure out command line arguments to do simple tasks.

What I find particularly shortsighted is the lack of Windows PowerShell scripting on Server Core. I know Microsoft has been beat up a lot about this already, but I still don't see it changing any time soon because of the .NET support requirement. Still, forcing admins into a pure command line interface and taking away the most powerful scripting tool Windows has makes for a rather ironic twist. In fact, it's funny that an operating system that freed us from the command line 20 years ago has now come full circle.

Windows Server Backup

Windows Server Backup is the replacement for NTBackup in Windows Server 2008. It's annoying because it (1) has no interface to tape devices and (2) has no ability in the UI to back up the system state alone. You can only back up volumes, but you can then restore specific files and folders and back up the system state with the command line utility WBAdmin. Still, the question is, why is it not in the UI?

Furthermore, I don't understand the lack of tape support, unless the reason is to force you into using a more "enterprise" backup tool like System Center Data Protection Manager. Microsoft tells us that tape backups are the only long-term solution and disk-to-disk backups are only for the short term. Oh, and one more thing: Windows Server Backup has to be manually installed as a feature in Server Manager.

Obviously, no OS is perfect. But while I like Windows Server 2008 overall, I thought it was important to point out these deficiencies, which I'm hoping will be corrected soon. I just wish Microsoft would be more cautious with those dramatic UI changes in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Olsen is a systems software engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Global Solutions Engineering. He authored Windows 2000: Active Directory Design and Deployment and co-authored Windows Server 2003 on HP ProLiant Servers. Gary is a Microsoft MVP for Directory Services and formerly for Windows File Systems.

This was first published in September 2008

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